What's The Difference Between Emotional Cheating & Micro-Cheating? Relationship Experts Weigh In
No one wants cheating to happen in their relationship, regardless of what type of unfaithful behavior occurs. And it's not just physical or emotional — there's a type of infidelity called micro-cheating that happens too. Basically, micro-cheating is when little things that may not seem like cheating to some people are deemed to be a form of cheating. "Micro-cheating is a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship," Melanie Schilling, dating expert, told HuffPost Australia. "You might be engaging in micro-cheating if you secretly connect with another guy/girl on social media; if you share private jokes; if you downplay the seriousness of your relationship to another guy/girl; or if you enter their name under a code in your phone."
You may think micro-cheating sounds like emotional cheating, but some experts find there are differences between the two. "There are certain signs to look out for that you are emotionally cheating," Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV, and co-star on Sex Box, WE tv, helps define emotional cheating, tells Bustle. "These include: the person completely fills your mind's mental space (you think about him/her constantly or obsessively); you find yourself modifying your routine/schedule to see the person more frequently; the quantity and frequency of contact with him/her increases; and your feelings for the other person deepen and intensify."
Now, you may be curious how emotional cheating differs, exactly, from micro-cheating — if it does at all. Below, experts weigh in on the two terms.
1. Micro-Cheating Is The Beer And Emotional Cheating Is The Whiskey
"Micro-cheating is the beer and emotional cheating is the whiskey. Micro-cheating is the beginning of the grooming process for both involved to see if the other person is interested. Then, if interested, both proceed to the next stage of emotional cheating. In this phase, we share our feelings, our dreams, our mutual interest, and/or the frustrations with our partners. If this all goes well, we have a clear runway to a sexual affair." - Douglas Weiss, Ph.D., psychologist, author, and media guest
2. Micro-Cheating Doesn't Exist
"The difference between emotional cheating and 'micro-cheating' is intention. If you are looking to make an emotional connection with someone outside of your relationship, with the hopes of having that connection reciprocated, to avoid more (or to create less) of an emotional connection inside your relationship, it's cheating, no matter what prefix you add to it. As the definition of 'micro-cheating' stands, it doesn't cause such a thing as I just described. But, let's face it, micro-cheating doesn't exist. If you're telling me it does, then I'm guilty of cheating on my wife with nearly 2,800 people I'm following on Instagram. With some, I'll like more pics than others. For example, I pretty much like every Barstool Sports post, and they put out one almost every hour. I also have a couple friends where we'll DM each other sports-related grams in a thread. So I'm pretty much guilty as charged." - Thomas Edwards, Founder of The Professional Wingman
3. Micro-Cheating Is Behaviorally Based
"The differences aren't clear... Cheating implies a breached contract, so it's important to know what your contract with your partner is. Emotional cheating is forming an illicit emotional attachment with someone other than your partner — but what is illicit will be defined by you and your partner. On the other hand, micro-cheating seems to be behaviorally based. In other words, touching someone in a way that implies romance or sneaking out to spend time with someone other than your partner. The key word here is 'sneaking.' If you feel guilty about it, or conflicted, or you think your partner wouldn't like it, then it's micro-cheating." - Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (aka "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist and author of How to be Happy Partners: Working it out Together
4. Micro-Cheating Can Involve Both Emotional And Physical Infidelity
"Micro-cheating may involve BOTH emotional and physical cheating. Micro-cheating means that you are looking to communicate with people without your partner knowing. Emotional cheating is something that is becoming more common, due to ease of communication through applications like Facebook, Twitter, and texting. It's easy to have conversations that don't look like 'conversations' as we used to experience them. Emotional cheating is less clear cut than micro-cheating, because sometimes it might start without the intent. You might emotionally cheat on your partner with a co-worker or a person in your exercise class, and it was never intended to go that way. People have to realize that it's much easier to connect with people these days, and we have to be more aware that not everyone holds the same boundaries." - Stef Safran, matchmaking and dating expert
5. Micro-Cheating Involves Smaller Actions That Show You're Interested In Someone Else
"Micro-cheating is a series of smaller actions that demonstrate the person is emotionally or physically interested in someone outside of their relationship. Examples of ways someone might engage in micro-cheating include lying about your relationship status, engaging with someone on social media, or consistently texting a former lover without your partner knowing. Meanwhile, some folks use emotional affairs as a mechanism for avoiding true intimacy with their partner or spouse. They withhold communication of their feelings and share them with an outsider to keep a wedge between them and their significant other. This maintains a disconnect or distance in their attachment. After all, talking is the glue that holds people together. Some emotional affairs turn physical, although many do not. Emotional affairs are usually more powerful than solely sexual relationships. Often, one or both partners engaged in the emotional affair chooses to refrain from sex, rationalizing to themselves that without sex, it is not really 'affair.' This is a form of denial, lack of accountability, and lack of willingness to own up to cheating on/the betrayal to their partner or spouse." - Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV, and co-star on Sex Box, WE tv
6. Micro-Cheating Can Include Emotional Cheating
"IS there a difference between micro-cheating and emotional cheating? My honest guess would be that the former can include examples of the latter. It all boils down to this: It is vital that a couple each express and first define what 'loyalty' and 'disloyalty' means to them. I've observed that many couples badly hurt one another accidentally, by saying or doing things that violate the other party's sense of fidelity, because each one is operating with a different definition of what 'cheating' or 'loyalty' is about." - Shlomo Zalman Bregman, Rabbi, matchmaker, and relationship expert
7. Emotional Cheating Is Much Harder To Define
"I don't think I totally get micro-cheating. It honestly sounds like either emotional cheating, not having clearly defined boundaries in a relationship, or just being friends with someone while having a super jealous partner. On the other hand, emotional cheating is much harder to define, as couples are going to have drastically different definitions of 'emotional closeness.' So the easiest way to define emotional cheating in your relationship would be to ask yourself, "Do I feel comfortable telling my partner the truth about this encounter?" For instance, catching up with an ex over drinks might be completely acceptable in one relationship and taboo in another. If it falls in the latter category for a relationship but a partner still goes — that's where lines start to be drawn. It's important to remember that emotional cheating cannot be a blanket generalization, as it will vary from couple to couple, but that one question is the best way to see if you are engaged with emotional cheating. – Kali Rogers of Blush Online Life Coaching
As you can see, there seem to be some slight differences between emotional cheating and micro-cheating. Like many of the experts say above, only you and your partner know what constitutes "cheating" in the first place, no matter what form of cheating it is.